Start­ing 5 seems to be so­lid­i­fied

Winslow set­tles in at power for­ward

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - SPORTS - By Ira Win­der­man Staff writer

MI­AMI There have al­ready been four start­ing power for­wards, three start­ing cen­ters, two start­ing small for­wards and two start­ing shoot­ing guards. The lone seg­ment of sta­bil­ity for the Mi­ami Heat has been at point guard, where Go­ran Dragic has started all 13 games.

But tonight, bar­ring a late change from coach Erik Spoel­stra against the Wash­ing­ton Wizards, the Heat will do some­thing they haven’t done so far this sea­son — go with the same five starters for a fourth con­sec­u­tive game.

“It’s cer­tainly com­pelling enough to con­tinue like this,” Spoel­stra said fol­low­ing Tues­day’s prac­tice at Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena. “There’s some very good things with that start­ing unit. We just con­tinue to need to build a con­sis­tent 48-minute game.”

The lat­est lineup per­mu­ta­tion came to­gether with Jus­tise Winslow open­ing at power for­ward, after Kelly Olynyk, James John­son and Okaro White pre­vi­ously had been cast in that start­ing role. The lineup with Winslow at power for­ward has gone 2-1.

“He was start­ing to trend in

the right di­rec­tion, any­way,” Spoel­stra said, with Winslow start­ing the pre­vi­ous two games at small for­ward, in the pa­ter­nity-leave ab­sence of Dion Waiters, be­fore this shift to power for­ward. “I just want him to make an im­pact when he’s out there, on both ends of the court. At the four, he can play off of our guards and fa­cil­i­tate and then pick his spots where to be ag­gres­sive.

“When I had him off the bench, he was play­mak­ing a lit­tle bit more. He’s got to be able to do both, so I don’t think there’s a bet­ter or worse.”

For now, there at least is a sense of sta­bil­ity.

Winslow said he is tak­ing noth­ing for granted.

“We’re still try­ing to fig­ure it out,” he said. “I don’t think the start­ing lineup is set in stone yet. This is the rhythm, the flow that coach wants to get into.”

The pre­vi­ous long­est run by a Heat lineup this sea­son was the three con­sec­u­tive games that fea­tured firstround pick Bam Ade­bayo open­ing at cen­ter in the in­jury ab­sence of Has­san White­side. The Heat went 0-3 with that align­ment, with Ade­bayo barely hav­ing played since.

“I feel com­fort­able with the sec­ond unit and the start­ing lineup,” Dragic said of the lat­est align­ment. “It’s just a mat­ter of time when we fig­ure out those things. The start­ing lineup is look­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter. Our de­fense is much bet­ter.”

Mostly, the Heat have de­vel­oped a sense of con­tinuioff ty.

“It helps be­cause you know what ev­ery­body is do­ing, what you can ex­pect from guys and you feel more com­fort­able out there,” Dragic said. “That can­not give you guar­an­tees that ev­ery night you’re go­ing to have a good game.

“But, still, at least you know what kind of plays you can run for some guys.”

It also has Winslow more sin­gu­lar in his fo­cus, no longer play­ing pri­mar­ily as a dis­trib­u­tor, as he did with the sec­ond unit, now play­ing off Dragic and Dion Waiters.

“That start­ing lineup, I’m the ball a lit­tle bit more,” he said. “That’s some­thing I’ve had to learn to do es­pe­cially since col­lege. Col­lege, I wasn’t the point, but I had the ball a lit­tle bit more. Rookie year was that tran­si­tion for me.

“I’m still kind of work­ing it out, try­ing to fig­ure it out, but those guys are great play­mak­ers, un­selfish. The ball’s go­ing to find the open guy. It’s just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent when I’m mak­ing the plays ver­sus other peo­ple, just kind of got to feel it out.”

The mood mostly was upbeat Tues­day, with the Heat back work­ing on their own prac­tice court for the first time in two weeks, after a 3-3 trip.

“It feels great,” Spoel­stra said. “I love be­ing in the con­fines, love be­ing able to see those blue skies right out­side our prac­tice win­dow. There’s noth­ing like it.

“We’re plug­ging away. Ev­ery­thing is about push­ing that rock up the hill and try­ing to get bet­ter each day. We’re up and down, like a lot of teams are in this league.”

DUANE BURLESON/AP

For­ward Jus­tise Winslow and the start­ing five need to build on their con­sis­tency through the game, ac­cord­ing to Erik Spoel­stra.

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